With all of the discussion being had about our bloated national debt and the need for drastic spending cuts, I am extremely surprised there is not more discussion happening about the costs of the drug war and the price of incarcerating five times as many folks as the rest of the world.
Where have we gone so wrong as a nation that the discussion of rational policy where drugs and imprisonment are concerned has become so taboo, that even when we are discussing MASSIVE cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and education at the peril of allowing the most vulnerable to slip through the cracks in the name of the almighty dollar, it is somehow not even on the table for discussion to maybe take some money away form the disastrous policies that have bankrupted our nation; not just fiscally but morally?
The Drug Enforcement Agency alone sucks up $2.4 billion dollars a year. Now I am not a math genius, but from where I am sitting, a $2.4 billion dollar expenditure that yields ZERO positive results for our country is a HUGE waste of resources. Since the DEA was established in July of 1973 there has been NO real change in the amount of people who abuse drugs, nor the availability of those drugs in our communities. If anything, the sensationalist and militarized forces used to combat drugs has increased the stakes so much that it has made drug dealing more lucrative than ever; and in turn, more of a real problem than ever. So, forgive me if I do not see the point of continuing to throw good money after bad and fund a division of the Justice Department that by all measures is terrible at their mission of stopping drug use and keeping drugs off of our streets. Over ten years (which is how all these budget dudes talk) we could save $24 billion dollars just be eliminating the DEA. All those “Libertarian- Return the powers to the states” conservatives should be thrilled about ending another Federal overreach like this, and saving our country money to boot.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Here is how the real money is spent on prohibition. After the DEA wastes your money flying around in helicopters making themselves feel important by chasing some weedhead growers around the hills and “investigating” known weedheads for years on end, only to execute some weakly evidenced search warrant on some unsuspecting pot growers, the real fun begins. Then this person is put into custody of the US Marshall service and their “case” begins. This case involves a Pre-Trial Services officer who is assigned to the case to basically put the person on probation before ever being convicted of anything. These folks get to invade your privacy, expense gas money for driving to your house every week, and waste TONS of money drug testing anyone and everyone who states they have ever used weed in their life, regardless of if they are even charged with a drug crime.
So get that. We have already spent the resources of an investigation and execution of a raid. We add the salary of an officer that is assigned to watch people out on bail to make sure they are living a good life until trial. That person spends massive resources making sure he is doing his job, which includes stacks of unnecessary paperwork that is seldom even reviewed, and incredible amounts of drug testing at $80 a pop. But then there are the attorneys.
Since most of the people we arrest for selling drugs are poor people, not a lot of them have fancy big name attorneys. Most are forced to use court appointed counsel, in the form of a public defender. Now Federal public defenders are good attorneys, and most are handsomely compensated , including a robust benefits package. They do not make crazy money; but it is not chump change by any means. We pay thousands of these defenders to defend people against our drug laws, and we pay even more for folks to prosecute them. Mind you, there is still no real progress EVER made in curbing drug abuse or availability.
Then there is imprisonment costs. Did you know that just the US Bureau of Prisons costs us a whopping $6.8 billion dollars a year to house roughly 220,000 inmates- or 1 in every 1500 people. That is an astronomical number. AND…that is just Federal prison. Add in state and local prison populations and the rate is almost 10 times that- over 2 million people, or about 1 in ever 150 folks in the country. It dwarfs the rate of any other nation on the planet by a longshot. We lock up 25% of the world’s prison population, but only have 5% of the actual population. But nobody wants to talk about the HUGE waste of resources that go to solving no problem?
The New York Time recently did a piece called Too Many Prisoners where they said this:
Last fall, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a comprehensive report that said mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” especially for people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given such sentences. Mandatory minimums have contributed in the last 20 years to the near tripling of federal prisoners, with more than half the prisoners now in for drug crimes.
That is an incredible explosion of costs that have taken place over the last 20 years. Think about that. TRIPLING of Federal prisoners in two decades. WOW! Are there that many more criminals, or have we stacked the deck against poor and desperate people? These policies prey on the poor and less fortunate who are often lured into the lucrative black market of drug dealing to compensate for the lack of opportunity in their poverty stricken areas. We have left people hungry and cold, and then wonder why they may resort to selling some weed to make ends meet. Then we snatch them off the streets at will, sentence them to draconian mandatory sentences, often for decades, to perform slave labor fo .30 cens an hour.
Then add in the cost of parole and probation to watch people for another few years, in which many are violated and sent back to prison, and you have a GINORMOUS problem.
Yeah…that is your reality, America. You have been duped into back door slavery by the “save the children from drugs” lies that have resulted in terrible policies and the alarming imprisonment of many of our neighbors for drugs. It must end.
To add insult to injury, we turn this slave labor over to private corporations for a minimal fee, and essentially we are paying to feed and house their workers, so they can pay them crap to build hummers and lawn furniture. Here is an excerpt from an article entitled Prison Labor Cheats Society:
Many corporations, whose products we consume on a daily basis, have learned that prison labor can be as profitable as using sweatshop labor in developing nations. You might have had a first-hand experience with a prison laborer if you have ever booked a flight on Trans World Airlines, since many of the workers making the phone reservations are prisoners. Other companies that use prison labor are Chevron, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret and Boeing. Federal prisons operate under the trade name Unicor and use their prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. Their Web site proudly displays “where the government shops first.”
Federal safety and health standards do not protect prison labor, nor do the National Labor Relations Board policies. The corporations do not even have to pay minimum wage. In California, inmates who work for the Prison Industrial Authority earn wages between 30 and 95 cents per hour before required deductions for restitutions and fines.
Yup…read it and weep. The fancy negligee you bought the Misses for Christmas at Victoria’s Secret was made by some kid who was busted for weed in Louisiana. Wear it proudly because slave labor supplemented by US tax dollars paid for it…and they still charge you $50 a bra? Unbelievable.
And none of those are the REAL costs associated with prohibition. The REAL costs come from the toll this takes on our society. We have created an entire class of criminal where there was none, for what should be a health matter on most occasions. We are not busting drug lords. We are busting poor people with drug habits and taking many years of their lives away for their addiction, or poor judgement. These folks are scarred for life, both mentally and emotionally. They lose their standing in the community and any chance of upward mobility. We remove their right to better themselves through educational funding, and we remove them from society for long periods of times.
These folks also have families. Their children and loved ones suffer greatly from their absence. This puts strains on the family, and often results in parents growing up with one parent in the house. Studies show that this also results in more crime, and the cycle continues. The REAL cost comes in human existence and the right to survive. We have used our drug laws as a way to oppress many, and we have created a society where violence and crime is the norm- not the exception it should be.
We are all engaged in these evil policies, and should be ashamed. But this is also very expensive. So forgive me if I do not take you “fiscal cliff” discussion on face value, when you do not even have the courage to address the costs of prohibition and mass incarceration. If these folks would rather take health coverage and support from the elderly and disabled, than face our real problem with prohibition head on, then I cannot take any of them seriously as being committed to real deficit reduction, or revenue increases.
You wanna talk saving money? Let me know when a serious discussion about the bazillion dollars we spend on this crap is being had, so I can begin to pay attention. Any discussion of fiscal responsibility that does not include the drug war is an absolute disservice to this nation and its citizens.